Getting my bearings in Ireland

So the picture above is of Houth, one of the many beautiful places in and around Dublin and the Irish Sea. Houth is the land off in the distance. My colleague Anne Marie took me there today for coffee and scones as we discussed all of the logistics that she planned for the upcoming three weeks. Anne Marie has been working with us in Dublin since the first year of the course in 2004, and it’s always a joy to return to her.

After meeting with Anne Marie, I met a new colleague on the course this year. Her name is Louise Lowe, and she’s making site-specific work in communities in Dublin and Belfast. After missing each other for about 25 minutes, we finally connected and proceeded to spend over two hours discussing her work and her philosophies about creating work in communities. Our conversations around a rigorous aesthetic were particularly resonant for me, as I often find that community-engaged performances can suffer aesthetically because people believe in the “reason” for making the work more than they believe in making an exemplary piece of art. Sometimes process is valued over the final product, and one place where Louise and I shared common ground came around the idea that a strong process will most often yield a strong product. I found our conversation thought-provoking and affirming on so many levels. Louise also took me to the site where she will work with my students on Friday, a somewhat forgotten city block just off of the bustling O’Connell Street. I’ll be able to be more specific about the location after her work on Friday, but suffice it to say, I’ve been to Dublin a dozen times over the last eight years, and I’d not seen this block even though I’ve walked around it many times before. Louise has a powerful personality and presentation, and she’s not messing around. She’s serious and rigorous, and I’m excited to see what comes of her work on Friday.

After Louise, I met with Chrissie Poulter, a faculty member at Trinity College, specializing in community-engaged theatre. Chrissie has worked on the NYU program since 2004, and after a three-year career break at a college in Leeds, UK, Chrissie is back at Trinity. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing Chrissie facilitate any number of workshops with students over the years, and I’ve met no other practitioner able to step into a room of people and take the group’s temperature the way Chrissie can. She’s worked in settings throughout the world, most notably at the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. When a facilitator works in that kind of conflicted area, she has to understand the temperature of the given encounter very early on in the work, and Chrissie has honed that sixth sense in a way that I hope to have some day. I’ve got a ways to go. I’m hoping to find room in our packed schedule to have Chrissie join us for a session, as her voice adds a depth and history to the work that offers a profound sense of the scope and development of the practice of applied theatre.

My final meeting of the day came over dinner with Sara Simons, a doctoral student at NYU visiting Dublin after attending the IDIERI conference in Limerick. Sara is doing some great work around using drama to train pre-service teachers in diversity and social justice education practices. She’s got a lot of passion about what she does, so it was great to share a meal and hear her takes on the international gathering of drama practitioners.

My students begin arriving in the morning, and we kick off Sunday evening at 7:00pm. We’ll see if I’m able to keep up with this blogging. Somewhere along the way I’ve got to be able to write a play here and there. And get in some exercise. And prep for all of these experiences with the students. It’s overwhelming…